Taekwon-do is known for its kicking techniques. Taekwon-do fighters are known for their kicking expertise. If you are to ever to become proficient at Taekwon-do, you must master the kicking techniques.

Why does Taekwon-do stress kicking?
  • Korea historically has been known for its great handiwork and culture. Hands were seen as a source of livelihood and for creating beautiful objects, and, as such, they were considered impractical for fighting. As a result, kicking was developed to protect hands from damage and a possible loss of income.

  • Korea is a very mountainous country. Traditionally, its people have traveled by walking. Walking over mountains and steep terrain for long periods greatly increases muscular strength in the legs. Additionally, the heavy shoes used for walking made effective weapons.

  • Koreans traditionally practiced games and activities requiring a great deal of skill. Historically, Tae Kyon (precursor to Taekwon-do) contests were played with kicking the head earning the highest number points—a tradition still used in modern Taekwon-do free-sparring.

  • Koreans realized that the legs, being longer and stronger than the arms, make better striking weapons than the arms.
  • Most people fear kicks and feel they are the most dangerous techniques in Taekwon-do. Kicks are powerful, but punches are the most dangerous techniques. In professional karate, there are minimum kicking requirements. If kicks are so deadly, why must professional fighters be forced to kick. To encourage more kicking in Taekwon-do sparring competition, more points are awarded for kicks and jump kicks.

    What makes Taekwon-do kicks so powerful?

    All martial art styles have kick in their repertoire. Why are Taekwon-do kicks so much more powerful than those of most other styles? They all use balance, hip torque, and of course, powerful, flexible legs.   While all of those qualities play a role in strong kicks, the real secret to kicking prowess is how you pivot on your stationary foot. When your stationary foot pivots, you are aligning your joints and improving balance, which positions your body for better kicking power.

    Every kick has its own characteristic pivot, and the pivoting action for each kick differs from style to style. For example, in the front kick, some styles do not pivot the base foot at all, most Japanese styles pivot 90 degrees, some Taekwon-do styles pivot 90 degrees, others only pivot 45 degrees, saying it puts less stress on the pivot knee and helps balance. Pivoting more than 45 degrees on a front kick makes it difficult to keep the back straight and causes some to lean backward as the kick extends, which lessens power. Pivoting 45 degrees turn the torso toward the side, which presents a smaller target area to the opponent.

    Pivoting too far can also put stress on the knee due to the excessive twisting movement while carrying the body's weight on that leg. The knee of your stationary leg should always line up with the toes of the stationary foot. When you turn your hip into the kick, the knee follows, meaning your foot must pivot to stay in line with the knee. According to sports medicine experts, one of the major causes of knee damage in martial artists is kicking without pivoting on the stationary foot.

    Some instructors recommend pivoting 90 degrees when executing a roundhouse kick; cock the knee of their kicking leg, then extending it into the kick, with the knee at a right angle to the target. Others pivot 180 degrees to deliver the roundhouse kick, with their knee pointed forward toward the target, which means the kicker must view the target over the shoulder, which is an awkward twist.  However, the 180-degree pivot generates maximum power. Others pivot 160 degrees, which allows the knee to be brought up and still generate plenty of power and permits the kicker to view the target better.

    For a hook kick, the pivot is 180 degrees so the kicking leg can extend straight toward the side of the target and still achieve the whip-like hooking motion.

    For side-kicks, some instructors advocate 90-degree pivots, making the technique a quick knee cock, followed immediately by the side- kick. Traditional Taekwon-do uses a 180 degree pivot that makes the kicks appearing a little like a back kick, which means the kicker must view the target over the shoulder. Sliding side-kicks require a 180-degree pivot. Modern Contemporary Taekwon-do uses 160-degree pivot so you can see the target easier. Again the 180-degree pivot generates the most powerful kick.

    Spinning hook and back kicks require a 180-degree pivot. Any thing less will place unnatural torque on the stationary knee.

    Knowledge of different kick pivots is important for a number of reasons. An improper pivot decreases power, disrupts balance, obstructs your view of your target and may damage the joints of your stationary leg.

    Kicks vs. Punches
  • Kicks are slower than punches, so they are easier to block
  • Kicks are more powerful than punches
  • Kicks have further to travel to their target than punches so kicks are easier to block
  • Kicks use more energy than punches, so more punches may be thrown for the same amount of energy
  • Punching is a natural instinct for humans, kicking must be learned 
  • To kick, you must stand on one leg which makes you less stable

  • Practicality

    Jump, spin, jump-spin, and flying kicks look nice in practice, but when sparring, there are only few circumstances where they may be useful. They may be useful if:
  • You are more skilled than your opponent
  • They are used as defensive techniques
  • You are much quicker than your opponent
  • Your opponent is much taller than you
  • You are so far ahead in points that you are able to show-off

  • Training

    To train for kicks, it is essential to stretch the hamstrings as much as possible. Some good exercises include:
  • Placing your leg on a stretching bar, then grabbing that ankle and slowly pulling your torso forward until, optimally, you can touch your head to your knee or shin. Once you can do this easily, increase the height of the stretching bar.
  • Sit with your legs stretched out to each side as far as possible and bend your torso first toward one knee and then toward the other, and finally down the middle. Next you bring your legs together, place your palms on the ground and lean forward.
  • Practice while holding onto a stretching bar or chair. Then practice by kicking over the back of a chair.
  • Stand upright and put one leg against a wall, then slowly inch your foot up the wall as your body adjusts to the pressure on the muscles being stretched.
  • Since some kicks, such as the axe kick, are difficult to control it is unsafe to train with a partner, so it is best to train using a focus mitt.

  • Evolution of Taekwon-do Kicks

    Taekwon-do as evolved through the years. At its inception, it was a combination of styles and it gradually gained it own individuality. Early competition kicks were basic linear kicks. Spinning and aerial kicks were considered flashy and ineffective. Modern training techniques, starting children at younger ages, and individual superstars have changed many sports, such a Pele in soccer. Taekwon-do also evolved as younger practitioners became bored with traditional kicks and began experimenting with new kicks. Young people are no longer accepting traditional ways as being the best, they are questioning old techniques and developing new ones.

    Traditional Taekwon-do kicks are singular, linear, and powerful, with the emphasis on power. Modern kicking techniques use combinations kicks that drive the opponent back with basic kicks and then finish with a jump or jump-spinning kicks. Linear kicks are relatively easy to deflect or avoid and leave the kick exposed to counterattacks. Kicking emphasis has shifted from sheer muscle power to kinetic efficiency, where kicks take advantage of the laws of kinetics and physics.

    Traditional Taekwon-do patterns use exaggerated low stances. Such low stances hamper quick movements and limit height when jumping. To attempt a spin kick from a low stance, a large weight shift must be made, which telegraphs the intent of the kicker. When attempting a jumping kick from a low stance, the wide base of the stance limits the amount of force that may be applied to the jump. Using a more upright stance permits quick movement needed for spin kicks and allows the legs to propel the body upward enough to perform jump kicks.

    Traditional Taekwon-do fighting stances were relatively stationary. Through the years, Taekwon-do has adopted the continuous movement used by other fighting arts such as boxing. These changes involved quick shifts of foot positions and stances. Quick footwork is now used to change ranges and confuse opponents. The use of rapid combinations can create openings that permit the use of jump and spin kicks. Also, protective equipment, especially chest protectors, has become lighter and less restrictive, making it easier to jump and spin quickly through a greater range of motion.

    Change is inevitable! The globalization of Taekwon-do, modern training techniques, the prevalence of risk taking behavior, and scientific study of individual techniques and movements has lead to the development of new kicks and new kicking movements. As more women and children have entered Taekwon-do, kicking techniques have evolved from an emphasis on power to an emphasis on flexibility and speed. As more weight divisions have been added to competition, which as increased the number of lighter competitors since they will be fighting opponents of equal size, smaller competitors have developed quick, snappy techniques are more appropriate to their body type.

    With these cultural changes and innovations, new kicks and new ways to use old kicks developed. Since using a spin side kick in completion exposes more target area top the opponent, it evolved into a spinning back kick where more of the illegal back area is exposed while the front legal target area is protected. The spin heel kick is powerful and has a long reach, but is awkward since the leg must remain straight throughout the kick. It is also chambered low, which makes it easier to block and makes it more difficult to kick to the head, where more points are awarded. This led to development of the spin hook kick, which is chambered high to make it more difficult to block and o make it easier to kick to the head. The high chamber deceives the opponent since from this position the kick can be executed to low, middle, or high target with ease. However, it has slightly less range. The once popular spin crescent kick is less used today since it presents more scoring area to the opponent and requires the user to be in close range. However, it is not a useless kick. Some competitors use it very effective both as a primary attacking kick and in combination.

    The differences between the spin side kick, spin back kick, and back kick are the pivoting of the support foot, chambering position of the leg, rotation of the hips, and the angle of the upper body. In the spin side-kick, the leg is chambered high and the hips are rotated 180°, exposing the upper body to the opponent. In the spin back kick, the leg is chambered low and tucked in under the hips with the hips rotating only about 90°. In the back kick, the leg is chambered as in thee spin back kick, but the hips are rotated less than 90°, which protects the front of the body during and after execution.

    The back kick and spin back kick are commonly used as follow-up attacks in a combination since they expose less of the upper body and head to the opponent than the spin side-kick. With the spin back kick, your back is turned to the opponent and your upper body out of counterattack range. However, timing and accuracy are essential, since, if you kick too late or too early and miss your target, your opponent may take advantage of your awkward body position and counter. The back kick is even more powerful and faster than either of the other kicks, since you save time by not spinning, to execute a back kick, slightly rotate your hips backward, pivot your support foot, and thrust your rear leg to the target. There is no chamber since the kicking foot travel from the floor to the target in a mostly straight line. The back kick is an excellent counterattack against an aggressive opponent, such as when in a closed fighting position and opponent attacks with a lead leg round kick, the back kick turns your back to the attack and scores to the opponent's midsection.

    Since these kicks expose target areas to counter attacks during or immediately after the kick, a new type of kick evolved, the spin whip kick. Although the exact development of the spin whip kick is unknown, its roots can be traced to three kicks: the spin heel, spin hook and spin crescent kicks. The spin whip kick uses the power of the spin heel kick, the speed and deception of the spin hook kick, and the close range of the spin crescent kick while protecting target areas. In the early days of competition, the spin heel kick was popular because its power was difficult to block. To execute a spin heel kick, from a low sitting stance, pivot of the hips, swing rear leg behind the body, and strike opponent's body with the back of the heel. The spin heel kick is powerful, but it is also cumbersome, since the kicking leg remains straight from beginning to end. An improvement came with the spin hook kick. It is faster and more deceptive than the spin heel kick, and just as powerful. To perform the spin hook kick, from a fighting stance, pivot, chamber, and kick similar to the spin side kick, except the foot is aimed beside the target and the heel is pulled through the target by the knee and the snapping of the heel back toward the hip. The spin crescent kick is ideal for close range attacking because, unlike any other spin kick, the body is kept upright and compact throughout the kick. However, as fighters learned to read and counter the kick, it fell out of favor in full contact sparring.

    To perform the spin whip kick, the upper body rotates around its vertical axis while the lead foot rotates until the heel points at the opponent. Once the body is coiled, the rear foot shoots straight out to the side of the target and the body uncoils to whip the kicking leg through the target. The kick is quick, powerful, and may be used at close range. Since the chamber may also be used for a spinning hand technique, the kick can be deceptive. With the body kept upright, you have the opportunity to also attack with a hand combination. If the body leans back to keep the head out of range of a counterattack, your hands will be out of attacking range.

    The most recent kicking innovation is the spin 360° round kick. Prior to the mid-1980's, the 360° round kick was unheard of outside of Korea. With the immigration of a new generation of Korean competitors and instructors to the U.S. and Europe, the turn kick gained widespread popularity in less than five years. When attacking, spin and step rear foot forward and then perform a round kick using the other foot. Range is controlled by how far the spinning foot steps forward. When defending, the kick may be perform in place by placing the spinning foot just in front of the kicking foot in a hopping motion. When used in a counter, the spinning foot spins around the kicking foot to it original spot in a hopping motion. When attacking with a spin side, spin hook, or spin back kick, if the opponent reads the kick and back up, step through and fire the round kick. To use as a counter, instead of stepping forward into the kick, step down in a sort of hopping motion and the fire the round kick.

    Taekwon-do has evolved since its inception and it continues to evolve. Is the evolution good or bad? There are differences in opinion as to whether the changes are true to the art or are merely just to make kick more eye-catching and entertaining. Either way, evolution happens and cannot be stopped, although it may be controlled so the traditions of Taekwon-do may survive.

    Lethal Kicks

    In any type of modern Taekwon-do free-sparring, the goal is to out score the opponent and win the match. However, this was not the goal of the Korean martial arts that preceded Taekwon-do. They were developed to incapacitate or kill the opponent. If your warrior spirit is only attuned to free-sparring, you may be defeated or even die in a life or death defense situation. It is not so much the kicking techniques that need to change in a lethal situation; it is the targets and using the right technique for a specific target.

    For lethal kicks, the first target is the head. The temple areas are the thinnest areas of the skull and this will flex of break easier and transmit the power of the kick to the brain. The roundhouse kick delivered with the ball of the foot is one of most effective kicks for temple strikes. Another effective but extremely difficult kick to the temple is the jump double crescent kick, where the insides of both feet connect with the temples on each side of the head. Another vital head target is the base of the skull. An instep roundhouse kick to the base of the skull may incapacitate the opponent but a ball of the foot roundhouse kick may be lethal. A spin heel kick to the base of the skull or the temple is also devastating.

    The neck is very strong since it supports a heavy (sometimes empty) skull. The side of the neck is strong but a roundhouse, hook, or spin heel kick delivered there may cause dizziness or unconsciousness. Another effective but very difficult kick targeted to the side of the neck is a jump double side kick where one foot is targeted to the neck and the other is targeted to the chest. Another lethal and vulnerable target is the trachea. If it collapses, asphyxiation quickly results. A front thrust kick to the trachea with the ball of the foot may be lethal. A kick target at the jaw hinge may easily subdue an opponent. The entire neck may be targeted with the difficult and dangerous jump twist scissor kick where attacker jumps, grabs opponent around the neck in a scissor leg grab, and twists his or her body taking the opponent to the ground.

    An axe kick delivered straight down on the pressure point top the collarbone will not be lethal but it may incapacitate an opponent. If the kick does not break the collarbone or dislocate the shoulder, it will or may temporarily disable the arm on the side that is struck.

    The torso is a well-protected area but some targets are vulnerable. The solar plexus is an ideal target for a front thrust kick with the ball of the foot. Any type of side-kick to the chest may cause incapacitating injury or death. Back kicks are very powerful when performed correctly and can seriously injure your opponent's midsection. Roundhouse or heel kicks to the right side of the torso near the floating rib is an excellent target because lung circulation is located on that side of the body. A hook kick to the kidneys is a dangerous strike and may result in serious internal bleeding.

    While most of the lethal kicks are limited to the head and upper torso, the lower torso and legs offer targets for causing extreme pain and disability. A front thrust kick, delivered with the outside edge of the heel to the side of the lower torso next to the groin will damage the sciatic nerve causing pain and paralysis. A side-kick to outside of the thigh may damage the nerves and incapacitate that leg.

    The legs are excellent targets in a combat situation. Low kicks are always the preferred kicks when you life is at stake. They reduce your exposure to attack, prevent getting a leg grabbed, reduce you chances of falling, and may be devastating to the opponent. A spin heel kick to the back of opponent's calf will cause pain and debilitating muscle spasm. A hook kick to the thigh or back of the calf may cause painful muscle separation. When targeted to the back of the knee, the same kick may break the joint. Raking the outside edge of the foot down the opponent's shin is very painful to the opponent as is stomping the heel onto the top of the opponent's foot or the area between the area between the big toe and the toe next to it.

    Kick Quick

    How do you make your kicks quicker? Most students think a kick starts when the first movement of the body is made. Actually, the kick starts when you first think about performing the kick. So the quickness of a kick not only involves the physical movements of the kick but also the mental preparations. To kick faster, you must think faster. Professional Taekwon-do kickers have about a 0.48 second reaction time, which is about 63% of the total time of a kick. Since reaction time is longer than movement time, to kick faster, it is important to reduce the reaction time.

    Reaction time depends on your level of alertness, whether the opponent is using combinations, and the number of incoming techniques you must deal with. Your must stay keenly alert to every minute movement of an opponent, so you can predict an attack and react quicker. If an opponent usually only attacks with one technique, you have more time to react. If an opponent attacks with a flurry of techniques, your reaction time to each technique is reduced.

    Reaction time is improved by practice, so the more sparring you do, the quicker you reaction time will be. The more training you do, the better you muscle memory becomes, so the legs react quicker to stimulus. Also, if you constantly think " I will kick faster," you will start kicking faster.

    Professional Taekwon-do kickers take about 0.19 second to prepare for a kick. So to kick faster, work on reducing your preparation motions, such as chambering or moving the body.  Combining movements, such as chambering as you move forward, will reduce preparation time.

    If you always keep you knees bent, you will increase kicking speed since the knees do not have to bend before you move. Use weight training to increase your leg power, which will increase movement speed and thus increase kicking speed. By increasing the depth of your stance, which will make the lead leg closer to the opponent and decrease the distance the kick must cover, you will increase kicking speed about 0.07 second.

      JC's TaeKwon-Do
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